In an ordinary Midwestern suburb is an ordinary two-bedroom house containing an ordinary couple. One of them has a plate of chicken and green beans and the other is kneeling beside him with his hands tied behind his back, opening his mouth to receive a green bean.
"Ugh." Alex throws the last of his bagel at a pigeon and gets up.
"Do you people not even have science fiction that teaches you to be hesitant about judging other civilizations because maybe they're just weird but sane? I was trying really hard to fit Earth into that category right up until the point where it became clear that you were in the genre of weird morally horrifying thought experiments instead!"
"We have lots of science fiction. You could read some but I don't think you'd like it." Isabella's still working on her bagels and doesn't follow Alex as he stalks back to her apartment.
"I really think this problem could be solved if you could visit dath ilan for three and a half seconds and see that the people there are basically free and happy and rich and not because we are brainwashed, we are so much less brainwashed than the horror-factories you call schools do to people here. We would back off if we noticed we were traumatizing half our students so badly that they end up scarred away from math for life. You people don't back off, you don't even run experiments or conditional prediction markets to notice when your supposedly smart people are doing horrific damage in the course of running other people's lives for their own good. The only reason you could possibly think that Earth was less of a dystopia is because you have stopped noticing all the dystopian things you do, to the point that when we built less dystopian features you automatically processed all the novel parts as 'oh, probably a dystopia' because your experience is that roughly all attempts at doing anything end up dystopian but at least you are used to yours!"
"Thellim, no matter how many times you say 'I hate everything you love' in different words, it will not start sounding friendly. And no matter how many times you assign us collective responsibility for the things we don't love, it won't give us the power to wave our hands and implement educational reform."
"We manage not to scar little children such that they never want to learn math again! How is this not evidence that maybe dath ilan is actually, really, sincerely trying to be less awful and coercive to its own people? I get that you don't like it and that you don't have the power to change anything. We also wouldn't like it and we do have the power to change Civilization's course when the people inside don't like something. I don't know what crux I'm missing to convince you that something less dystopian than Earth is possible but it really seems to me that there is some enormous case of learned helplessness going on here."
"I believe that the parts of dath ilan you have seen are very comfortable in the ways that matter to you."
"And my extremely high-functioning, statistically literate news system would have made sure that if anything else was happening 0.1% of the time, it would appear on 1 out of 1000 news stories. Yes, we have one enormous island of last resort, where people go when they've behaved badly enough, and by that I mean, stolen, raped and killed, such that no other region wants to take them, because what else do you expect us to do, kill them, and the people who go there get contraception implants, and that region is not self-governing or allowed to manufacture powerful weapons, so that peacekeepers can have enough of a military advantage that they can collect the brains of the dead and prevent new arrivals from being enslaved the moment they step off the airplane. And we know about that and it appears in the news with roughly the same frequency that it exists. I do not ever want to go there but I would take it in a heartbeat over Earth's prisons and what - what else would you have us do? We make every possible accommodation for people who can't fit! We think about it and add even more accommodations as technology allows! We have customs specifically to protect weird people, the entire profession of reckless investing is reserved for nonconformists so that Civilization will always have exalted nonconformists, we have experimental regions to test variant ways of doing things, we have Quiet Cities for people who just can't handle Civilization for one reason or another, I truly do not understand what else you think dath ilan is supposed to do!"
"...you exile people to Australia for theft? - what is a Quiet City."
"Groups that form cities have the right to exclude people from those cities, according to their own variable criteria. If an adult steals enough that no normal city wants them, and they have run out the patience of the sort of cities that manic philanthropists create to take in thieves - or just don't want to live there - then we made sure there was a place of last resort where anyone could go no matter what. We do apply external coercion to make sure the Last Resort does not form its own government that could, like Earth governments, simply exclude people from there too. There is always someplace for someone to go, and live, and not be abandoned to true death, no matter what else they have done."
"- is that the Australia part or the Quiet City part?"
"No, the Quiet Cities are normal peaceful places with adequate-quality versions of all the infrastructure. People go there when they can't handle actively working with Civilization in its current form, for whatever reason, and choose to be passively supported by Civilization instead. What does Earth do with somebody when they don't want to work a horrible Earth job, and no nicer jobs are being offered to them?"
"They live with their family if they have one and get, like, food stamps, if they don't? Our social services are not the best in the world here, I think they're better in parts of Europe, but even here most people who are actually homeless are not so for more than one day and most of the ones who are more homeless than that have serious mental illnesses keeping them from trying any obvious solutions."
"I will be very pleasantly surprised by Earth if I check and find that people being given 'food stamps' are living with objectively higher material standards than people who go to Quiet Cities. Do you wish to bet me on whether I will think that?"
"I would also be very surprised if you thought that. However, I'd be surprised if you found someone on food stamps, described to them Quiet Cities sufficiently that they would not say they weren't warned about anything significant to them about conditions there, and asked if they'd take a free ticket to live there and got a definite yes."
"Inhabitants of Quiet Cities live in larger houses than you do. Admittedly, this is not much of an accomplishment by our standards."
"I could on my current savings plus eclipse freelancing afford a mansion in any number of locations that aren't near my job and restaurants, and I could afford a bigger place even in Manhattan, that's just not actually something I care about or want to bother keeping organized until I have a live-in sub or Alex graduates or something. If you don't like it I can ship you somewhere cheap and provide consultation for further culture shock incidents by telepathy."
"I expect I can survive for at least another month at that level, possibly longer. But it isn't that hard to build larger houses for people, even ones who are trying to live in the central City. You just make taller buildings instead of tinier apartments? Which doesn't even imply denser transportation per unit area? We don't settle for living standards as low as what your Civilization thinks is okay for its wealthy psions; we keep poking at bad equilibria until we figure out how to do better, instead of putting up with them. I think you're probably visualizing something horrible and false about Quiet Cities, and once people can actually see what those are like, I will be very shocked if we do not have hundreds of millions of Earth people applying to rest there from their awful-equilibrium Earth situations."
"And you think you can support hundreds of millions of 'em? Actually, I'm curious - what do you come up with if you imagine telling an Earthling about how nice Quiet Cities are, going on about them for a good long time to cover everything, and the Earthling says, 'that sounds awful, because X', what's X."
This is the correct way to argue with a dath ilani. Isabella has named a future-observable, one that could be tested by finding an appropriate Earthling and trying it. It hardly needs saying that if Thellim comes up with a bad prediction in the heat of Very Serious debate, Isabella will immediately pounce on that and offer to bet at high stakes.
Thellim can already feel her brain hastily retreating back from some of its stronger stances, which is not very dignified at all, and she needs to be careful to remember how sane people debated back in her sane homeworld.
"Huh. Give me a minute or two to think out loud about that. Realistically, the number one thing will be something I thought was wonderful and that I didn't realize Earthlings would dislike... though also realistically, we'd set up separate Quiet Cities to accommodate Earthling preferences, if having cities be too silent at night means you can't sleep. If you literally tossed an Earthling direct into a dath ilani Quiet City... then they wouldn't know how to use the transportation, and wouldn't know how to speak Baseline. But that doesn't seem like the intent of your question, so assume a psion fixes that. Then... if you dropped off an Earthling near some average dath ilani like myself, instead of social adepts, the Earthling would conclude that dath ilani are rude and insulting, for reasons I'll hopefully manage to grasp better at some point. Symmetrically, the dath ilani would feel the Earthling lacked the quality my mind translates as 'dignity' for reacting like that; so the dath ilani would remind themselves the Earthling comes from another culture, and try to extend a deliberate tolerance; which the Earthling would feel was rude, insulting, and condescending. Or more generally: there'd be a huge amount of social friction because the Earthling's neighbors wouldn't act the way the Earthling thinks people should act, and vice versa. Or more more generally: the Earthling makes a huge number of bad predictions about how their neighborhood should work, because the Earthling mistakenly thinks they know how a high-tech society of humans should work, and they get around as far as I did when I was making that same mistake about Earth. But that's all still the kind of thing that you fix by building a special Quiet City for Earthlings, and I don't think it meets the intent of your question. You're looking for something more intrinsic to the nature of a Quiet City than that, something we couldn't or wouldn't patch with another five minutes of thinking, so it ends up as an actual issue in practice."
"At least in dath ilan, it's part of the nature of a Quiet City that if you get a well-paying job and start making a lot of your own money, you're supposed to move out. If you have truly ended up in a situation where all of your friends are in that Quiet City, you are not allowed to spend a lot of your money there, only save it. People who moved to Quiet Cities are not supposed to have to deal with social competition from people much wealthier. But that feature is not necessary for a Quiet City, it's just a clever-idea that happened to prove out experimentally; and if Earthlings mostly hated it, we'd just change that rule for the Quiet Earthling City. Actually, now that I say it, I think I remember there being some dath ilani Quiet Cities where you are allowed to move there or stay there even if you happen to be rich, because not everybody likes it the usual way and we understand the concept of exceptions. Also now that I say it, the situation with Earthlings taking refuge in dath ilan will be different from the usual premise of a Quiet City, and that feature may not make sense to impose in the first place."
"There's another class of obvious answers that I suspect still won't meet the intent of your question, but I'm going to say them out loud so my brain can get them out of the way. Some Earthlings will be accustomed to activities with negative externalities that Earth doesn't try to reduce, and those people could end up shocked and annoyed at the thought that we want to put them in a special region with other people who generate the same negative externality. Concretely, people who want to hold loud outdoor parties won't be allowed to move into the same regions as people who want to live with thin windows so they can directly hear outdoor sounds. Our instinctive approach would be to compute a regionalized map of where everybody should live for maximum satisfaction, and it would be easy to make the graph take into account prior friendships and relationships, but somebody at some point is still going to be told they can't live next door to somebody they were previously friends with, or if they do they can't throw loud outdoor parties anymore. I can imagine Earthlings getting very angry at that, if nobody has ever tried to tell them things like that before, and they assume it's all part of a giant plot. We'd set it up so as to make it clear that behavior X corresponds to being excluded from places Y, and try to explain that it's not our fault if their friends want to go to a low-noise city. But I imagine Earthlings getting very upset anyways because they are not used to any government rules like that ever having good intentions or ending well. And I still do not entirely disbelieve that, once submissives are offered the option for it, they will choose to move in great quantity to places that have different rules for how dominants treat submissives. I can imagine dominants feeling forced to follow to those places so they can go on having sex, and then blaming dath ilan for enforcing those unpleasant rules on them..."
"But I observe that my thoughts are following a pattern of, 'We're going to offer people additional options to move to places with different rules, so how would somebody end up pressured by their other incentives into enduring something unpleasant, or losing options they had on Earth because other Earthlings now have more options.' Which does make some sense, since moving to a dath ilani Quiet City would be voluntary, so my instinct is to analyze it using the template for how local harm can end up being done when a system permits more voluntary trades. But I suspect you'd tell me to look outside that comfortable self-flattering picture and think of things that dath ilan would try to mandate on everybody, or set up incentive gradients to force almost everybody into. Even though many people are saying out loud that they don't want that. Which, I say yet again, is something that dath ilan does much less than Earth, because we look at equilibria like that and go 'ew' instead of settling for them, and run experiments and prediction markets to tell us what to do instead. The exceptions to that rule... well, one obvious thing that could turn up is that the remaining people who know why we had to screen off our past, tell us that we have to screen off Earth's past from the rest of dath ilan. Which doesn't seem likely to me? But the whole affair is admittedly mysterious. I mostly think that won't happen, so I'm going to set aside that possibility and try to focus on conditions I'm more sure we would impose."
"Rules we impose on everyone... we do make it difficult for people to destroy their own brains in a socially approved fashion, though we can't realistically prevent it from being easy to do anyways. Approved true suicide is supposed to require an extended discussion with... come to think, it requires an extended discussion with exactly the people who would be responsible for warning someone 'You might end up materializing in Earth if you did that', if that is a thing which the people smarter than me have somehow figured out and classified infohazardous. But that dath ilan society has presumed to take such a parental stance, toward such a private and individual decision, is understood to be a point of great controversy; a rare exception where only the extremely high utilitarian stakes could be balancing the deontology of individualism. I doubt we would resort to the huge efforts required to prevent true suicide from being possible in practice. And if Earthlings complain about the symbolism of the theoretical requirements, they will get a lot of sympathy... and somehow that still does not feel to me like it meets the intent of your question. You are looking for some foul act or prohibition where we'd actually expend the effort to make it stick and think we were justified. But we'd pay rather a lot of attention to somebody screaming 'stop' at us while we were trying to help them! It's not something we'd ignore any more than a virtuous dom ignores a safeword! Yes, brain, that's some very clever and comforting logic there, now reason out in what case that still wouldn't prevent problems. Oh! The shamefully-obvious-in-retrospect issue is that dath ilan may understand Earthlings to have less exclusive control and ownership of their own children than some Earthlings here are accustomed to. In dath ilan you do not get to tell children they cannot learn Baseline during their language-acquisition window, period, no matter what theories you are testing. Children have their own interests and are not just experimental subjects for parents and society. I can imagine us negotiating on such points in order to get more children here and relatively better off, but there are going to be some things we do not negotiate away. It's not going to help that our next best alternative to negotiated agreement is telling the whole Earthling family to stay on Earth and keep their children there too. But I expect us to be offering enough nice things to sad exhausted Earthlings that we are going to push back somewhat and say, no, if a child is crying during their math-traumatization sessions, we are going to yank them out and give them real math lessons instead, that is the price of our refuge..."
"Now that I think about it out loud, it seems like treatment of Earth children is the convergently obvious guess for a problem. The people smarter than me are going to look at the incentive gradients between Earth and dath ilan, figure out how much negotiating leverage we have to ask Earth immigrants to do things differently, and prioritize using that leverage on the most important points. Any points about rescuing children are going to trump all the other points, such that no negotiating leverage gets used on anything else. And then within that category the further priority is going to be giving children enough access to education and mental skills that when they grow up they don't want to impose horrible conditions on their children and propagate a multigenerational moral catastrophe. It's not that we wouldn't care about Earth adults, but we have a greater deontological obligation toward children, and the deontology about letting people make their own mistakes is much stronger for adults. If there's anything that Earth adults wouldn't like about the refuges we'd otherwise build, we're going end up giving way on those points, so we have more ability to ask for different treatment of children; so I predict. Even for childless adults we might decide that we want those Earthlings welcomed in greater numbers, so as to attract more Earth people with children; or the prediction markets may forecast that Earth people are more likely to accept a policy that looks more uniform and doesn't treat childless adults differently. So my answer to your question is that I predict even the Quiet Earthling Cities will impose some standard dath ilani rules on the treatment of children, which some Earth parents won't like. Though usually a Quiet City wouldn't take anyone with children at all, of course, and would require reversible contraceptive implants on entry; but I'll be flabbergasted if that rule doesn't get relaxed for the first generation of Earth refugees."
"I appreciate you engaging with the reframe. Quiet Cities usually don't take anyone with children?"
"They don't, for what I'd consider straightforward reasons. Do you want to try simulating my reasoning even if you don't agree with it, to see if you can pass the imitation test on extrapolating what I'd say was the rationale, even if you think that's not our government's real motive?"
"Let's see - it's not going to be what it would be if there were an Earth government doing this, I guess - you could have a eugenic motive but it would at least be presented differently, like, 'we think this policy delays childbearing in the subset of the population least compatible with Civilization as they feel out whether they can find a role that works for them and then even if they can they are likely to have somewhat fewer', or 'people who go to Quiet Cities disproportionately don't like children for some reason like them being loud or something', or 'children make it difficult to have the people who support the city for the support of passive residents do their jobs efficiently', or 'school is part of Civilization', or 'we tried letting Quiet Citizens have kids but the kids tended to become Quiet Citizens themselves and we didn't want to create a permanent underclass'...?"
"Passed! I mean, some of those statements didn't make sense to me at all, like school being part of Civilization. But still, essentially passed because it's the right general kind of thinking! The main factor you missed is a moral pseudo-rationalization that I wouldn't reasonably expect somebody to predict about an alien civilization. Parents are taking on a - holy? - no, what - taking on a transcendent responsibility to provide for the children they create. It's one thing to ask Civilization to support you, after Civilization failed to provide you with a world you could actively participate in. As a parent you're not supposed to plan on other people supporting your kids. So you should only have kids if you're sure you can support yourself, because if you can't support yourself, you definitely can't support kids. Or from another angle: before you have kids, Civilization naturally owes you something because you're a sapient being born into a world with natural resources. When you have kids, they inherit that claim, and their priority on that claim is higher than yours, so the right to claim Civilization's support passes to your children instead of you. And if that causes people to stop and think and question their decision to take on a parent's responsibilities, that's right and proper; it internalizes some externalities. It presents potential parents with a setup where being wrong about their own capabilities will cost them and not just cost their kids. It forces them to take seriously the question of whether they're ready to assume the transcendent responsibilities of a creator."
"The way we'd phrase the eugenic part is that we don't want the seemingly compassionate act of creating Quiet Cities to backfire into assortatively mating into existence a distinct subspecies of unhappy people, or into the obvious bad equilibrium where some couple that heritably wants infinite children gets loose in a setup that provides unbounded resources. Or a deeper view: deleterious mutations must occasionally lead their bearers to reproduce less, if all of our genetic information isn't to turn into sludge under the entropic pressure of randomization. Without that eugenic concern, we'd probably shrug off the moral argument because it wouldn't matter to consequences, which is why I called it a pseudo-rationalization. You don't want to go around imposing restrictions on people in the name of pretty moral arguments that wouldn't do any good in the world. But conversely, just the eugenic reasoning wouldn't yield a universal rule on its own. Not everybody who goes to a Quiet City is unhappy, or in possession of a bunch of deleterious mutations. They definitely aren't all plotting to have infinite babies. But it would be - dystopian even by our standards? - if we started assessing people's genetics to do utilitarian calculations on which couples were allowed to get pregnant in a Quiet City. When you're asking people to not do things on a societal basis, and threatening to withdraw usually-available positive support from them, it is in general unpleasant to start doing utilitarian calculations to say exactly who falls under the prohibition. It seems - kinder, prettier? - to abide in the more deontological reasoning that parents ought to confidently enter into their transcendent responsibility to support their children, and the parents' claim on the world's resources passes to their children from them."
"Seems rough on primary-caretakers whose careerist spouses die. And rape victims."